On the 20th July last year, in the windowless Bristol room of a house I shared with two huskies and a man who went on to defraud me (twice) I wrote my first ever post. In it, I confidently set out my stall – I even titled the piece ‘The Purpose of the Pilgrimage.’ Over the next 18 months, I asserted, I would travel to every whisk(e)y distillery in Great Britain and Ireland and taste their entry level expressions.
So on that score, I didn’t come close. Despite thousands of miles by boat and by Vauxhall Corsa, despite hundreds of pounds, nights in tents, hostels and wigwams and despite using every day of annual leave other than those earmarked for Christmas with family, my tally sits at exactly fifty. Not even the half way mark.
There are mitigating factors, of course. Chiefest being my gross underestimation of the time and expense involved in undertaking such a task. You’d be amazed how many distilleries aren’t a short hop from Bristol, or from my current room in Reading. But the bottom line is that I didn’t get to nearly as many as I would have liked. I didn’t get to Ireland whatsoever, and I only ticked off a Speyside because I popped into Glen Moray on my way through Elgin a couple of months back.
And yet I really don’t find myself regretting much.
The last seventeen months, it strikes me, have been an incredible learning curve. I thought I knew a decent amount about whisk(e)y when I started out. Decent enough to be talked into writing a blog, at any rate. But looking back, what’s really staggering is how little I knew about a drink I professed to love. My regular readers may have noticed the phrase ‘I only tried xyz distillery for the first time a year/six months/three days ago,’ repeated with almost embarrassing frequency in the course of my articles. The Adam of 20th July 2015 was months away from his first Glencadam, and even further from Redbreast. Mortlach was a stranger to him, so too Blanton’s and Paul John and Glendronach and Teeling and Kilchoman and The English Whisky Company and Michter’s. The Adam of 20th July 2015 had only tried Springbank for the first time two weeks beforehand!
In the last seventeen months I have thrust my nose into a Glencairn hundreds upon hundreds of times. My notebooks are bursting with hastily scribbled musings, and this site groans beneath the weight of 150,000-odd words. (I know my posts are too long). I have been privileged to meet hundreds of whisk(e)y fanatics both in person, and via twitter, where they have been very tolerant of my vacuous drivel about salt and vinegar crisps and the proper size of Kit Kat.
There have been weird moments – the double Willett’s poured into a pint glass stands out, as does my experiment with popcorn chicken... Occasionally there have been irritations, though mostly on the M6 or A9. I have lost count of the times someone has said something patronising about my age, and I’m still fed up of the number of people who don’t show any sort of common courtesy to their tour guides.
Mostly though, it has been an absolute joy, with too many high points to recount. Standouts of course were touring Islay with Pilgrim snr, and giving a whisk(e)y tasting to friends who formerly hated the stuff.
And here’s the thing. I set out to learn a little more about aqua vitae. And I wanted to introduce friends and family to something I’m so personally impassioned by. By and large I think I've achieved both of those. So although I didn't make it to every distillery, in the last seventeen months I have done what I can, and it’s difficult to think of that as a failure. And it's not as if they're going anywhere. Three more have probably been crowdfunded in the time it's taken to write this paragraph...
Besides, the journey isn’t over.
I’ve often pointed out (not that I needed to) that this site is a mess. It’s about the least user-friendly blog on the internet; scruffy looking, full of obscure titles and pieces that run, at their longest, over 7000 words. I’m a writer. But web-design is well outside of my comfort zone. So when Greg at Great Drams offered me a weekly slot on his stunning-looking and massively informative site I nearly took his hand off at the wrist. Starting from the first week of 2017, that’s where you’ll find me every Wednesday. And far easier on the eye it’ll be too.
The content and style will remain the same, for which I’m massively grateful to Greg. I’ve always tried to make my writing a little bit different; a bit fun, a bit accessible, and at times perhaps a bit too full of garblings about Asterix the Gaul or table football. I’ll probably write a few more reviews than I have done here, but my policy on always calling it as I find it, and predominantly covering my own costs remains the same. In fact there’s not a single whisky written up on this blog that I didn’t put my hand in my pocket for, or swap with a fellow member of the fantastic online whisky community. I’m rather proud of that.
Whisk(e)y is a wonderful thing. If I have one final thought for The Whisky Pilgrim, before I wind things up, it is this. The internet is full of – often justified – rantings about disappearing expressions and rising costs. Dead distilleries like Port Ellen and Brora are venerated as deities, well above and beyond the adulation they received in life. As the likes of Longmorn, Mortlach, Macallan and even my beloved Highland Park slip ever further out of reach, it is so easy to reflect upon what was – and I sympathise entirely with drinkers who pine for ‘the good auld days’ of a whisky loch to sip from and long-aged bottlings with change from a note.
But what I hope this site has stood for is the whisk(e)y that is still available to those of us whose pockets don’t match our passion. Yes, there are whiskies beyond our financial grasp – and I hate reading the press releases talking about how ‘aspirational’ such and such whisky is – but there has never been greater diversity within the whisk(e)y world, nor such a vast treasure chest to plunder if you take the time to rifle through it. If The Whisky Pilgrim helped someone, somewhere, to open that chest a little further, then I’ll call that a win.
Fellow lovers of medieval literature – we’re massive hits at parties – will know that the pilgrims of the Canterbury Tales never completed their journey. Perhaps they’re still around a fire somewhere between Southwark and Canterbury, spinning yarns of unsavoury characters committing unspeakable acts in pear trees, or sticking unmentionables out of windows. Well, The Whisky Pilgrim never made it to 'Canterbury' either, but this pilgrim will keep on writing. Hopefully for many years to come. Except I’ll just call myself Adam from now on. It’s far easier.
It has been an absolute pleasure and a real privilege to share my thoughts on whisk(e)y with you all. I truly hope that those who don’t already read Great Drams will follow me there for 2017. In the meantime, thank you so much for joining me here. I've always felt a bit of a fraud using the word ‘Sláinte’, the same way it's weird when Englishmen try to wear kilts, so I shan’t break the habit of a blogtime. Instead, and for the final time on The Whisky Pilgrim, I shall simply say: